R.A-S.H: The Chrysler Imperial


Oh, hai! Welcome to the fifth instalment of Roadwork Archive- Showroom Hyperbole; the series that the internet was created for.

We return to a North America of 1990 for today’s rummage through the dumpster of time, to a period where headlamps hid behind pneumatic flaps and roofs were partially upholstered. This was a bad time to be a domestic American car maker. With import competition hotter than ever it seemed that the domestic’s defence mechanism was to concentrate on Being American. And through these foreign eyes, no 1990 American car was more so than:

The Imperial.


The legendary K-Series platform had been Chryslers backbone throughout the ’80s. It reached its zenith (in modified Y-Series form) underneath the New Yorker, NY5th Avenue and here atop the Chrysler luxury tree, underneath the Imperial, which must have loved being front-wheel-drive for the first time in its distinguished career.

“Quality workmanship-inside and out- gave Imperial the highest quality rating of any American car”*

(*This study was conducted by an independent research company by mail among purchasers of vehicles from the October/November 1989 sales period)

See also such empirical research as “red is the best colour” and “wine is the nicest drink”.

Can’t argue with the legroom, though. more than:

“….an Infinity Q45 or Lexus LS400… (or)…Cadillac Brougham or Olds 98 Regency”

This was a valid boast, if only because the Imperial was much longer than the first two.


So they get all the humdrum, workaday stuff about quality and limb-space out of the way early so they can then get on with the more romantic side of things. The artistry of the Imperial.

“… The 1991 Imperial combines timeless beauty with today’s technology. Imperial’s classic profile is set off by a padded vinyl landau roof with a formal rear window, limousine-style roof pillars, opera windows and a wide bright up-and-over molding”.

Now, obviously this was what buyers of domestic luxury American cars wanted, right?  Right. Which is precisely why every wealthy aspirational young go-getter headed down Vine Street, straight past his friendly local Chrysler dealer and went to buy from the Germans or Japanese instead. His Dad, though; was more likely to shell Lee Iaccoca his shekels, his Grandpa even more so.


Personally I absolutely adore the way this thing looks, despite its obvious ridiculousness and pomposity. I like the way that the front end with its concealed headlamps and razor-sharp grille looks like it was conceived by Syd Mead as what a luxury car of the nineties would look like from the perspective of the seventies. I love that all retro-futurism up-front is dragging the remains of a bygone time along behind it. And I love the fact that anybody though that fake wire wheels were in any way acceptable at a time where laser-guided bombs were raining down and planes were invisible on radar.

“Under this traditional styling waits the modern engineering that gives Imperial Advantage: Chrysler”.

Here they discuss the brand-new 3.8 litre V6 (150hp) that towed the Imperial along the highway. Strangely, they make no mention here of the Lexus LS400 (250hp) or the Infiniti Q45 (278hp).

“The look and technology of a true luxury automobile”.

Imperial 5

To be fair to Chrysler, other than the above this brochure doesn’t really try to stretch the point too far into flights of fancy. They knew absolutely the audience they were talking to, and would be preaching to the choir. Instead the rest of the brochure rather dryly lists the things that the Imperial does and the benefits and features you’d be buying if you went Imperial.

I miss this period when you could look at a car and immediately define which country, even which region it came from. As the ’90s progressed everybody seemed to pussy out and design anodyne, identikit cars that could have come from anywhere in the world. Only relatively recently is a bit of identity starting to return to the roads, with America regaining some of its automotive confidence.

I doubt Landau Roofs will be back any time soon, and Imperial is unlikely to reappear at a dealer near you. But as historical snapshots go; I’m glad that I own the brochure.

<Disclaimer:- All photos were taken by the author and are of genuine original manufacturer publicity material, resting on the bonnet of a 1998 Audi A4. All copyright rights remain in the possession of the manufacturer, who has moved on. Seriously, they know what they’re doing these days>

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28 responses to “R.A-S.H: The Chrysler Imperial”

  1. skitter Avatar

    In the deep colors of the original brochure, seen through the glare of the flash, I really like the way the dashboard looks. The steering wheel could use an update, but other than that, if the fake wood actually looked like a big thick piece of wood in real life, or was replaced by a red painted metal panel, it would look awesome.

  2. mdharrell Avatar

    What, no mention of the Visorphone show in figure (5)?
    <img src="http://i305.photobucket.com/albums/nn237/jtduvall/Misc/Intrepid/IMG_0874.jpg&quot; width="400">
    Look! Technology! True luxury!

    1. C³-Cool Cadillac Cat Avatar
      C³-Cool Cadillac Cat

      Speak-N-Spell for the 90's.

    2. Peter Tanshanomi Avatar
      Peter Tanshanomi

      Hey, the visorphone was actually really cool technology. If we could put one in in all new cars in exchange the exclusion of texting, surfing and tweeting on today's smartphones, the world would be a better place.

  3. P161911 Avatar

    Those interior shots look to be in the same style as, and wouldn't be out of place in, the 1967 Imperial Brochure.
    <img src="http://oldcarbrochures.org/var/albums/NA/Chrysler_and_Imperial/1967_Chrysler/1967-Imperial-Brochure-2/1967%20Imperial-20-21.jpg?m=1308161819"width=500&gt;

  4. Vavon Avatar

    Does this car really have THREE sidemarkers on the front end (fender, bumper and wing)???

    1. mdharrell Avatar

      I suspect the white one at the bottom is for illuminating turns by coming on solid when the signal on that side is activated. My parents' 1967 Buick had a set of those. They're somewhat useful for close, low-speed turns, such as into driveways.
      I also wouldn't be surprised if the orange rectangle above that is just a reflector, with the actual side marker lamp built into the wraparound unit, but I've never had a chance to mess around with one of these cars.

      1. C³-Cool Cadillac Cat Avatar
        C³-Cool Cadillac Cat

        The large white one is, without a doubt, a 'cornering' lamp.
        These were common on luxury vehicles until relatively recently.

  5. Devin Avatar

    Ever notice that early '90s Chrysler brochures were absurdly high quality? Really thick, substantial grade of paper, huge glossy photos, stuff like embossed lettering and some foil inserts for style. Chrysler brochures were frequently better made and more expensive feeling than the cars they were actually advertising.

    1. skitter Avatar

      I still remember the smell and feel of a '97 LHS brochure.

    2. P161911 Avatar

      I had a NSX brochure from its first year. It was a hardback book with an aluminum stamping on the front. I picked it up at the Goodwill book sale and sold it a few years later for a pretty penny on eBay.

  6. Fantasy Island Avatar
    Fantasy Island

    I miss Recardo.

  7. dukeisduke Avatar

    The gather and seam on the end of the head restraints remind me of a dog's, uh, exhaust port.

  8. MVEilenstein Avatar

    "As the ’90s progressed everybody seemed to pussy out and design anodyne, identikit cars"
    You can thank CAFE for that.

  9. Preludacris Avatar

    So this is completely unrelated, but maybe slightly tangentially… somehow.
    My girlfriend is buying a 92 Olds Cutlass Ciera. My undomesticated mind lumps it in the same category as this car. Big and baroque. And horrible. Why not just get an Accord of the era? Because she knows the seller. And her mom fell in love with this stupid thing. It's low miles and cheap, and as much as my impulse was to not let her buy it, it seems like a good example of a bad car… better than a bad example of a good car (i.e. beater civic) for the same $1000.
    Anyways… what is there to know about A-bodies? Any quirks of the 3.3L V6?

    1. Devin Avatar

      Is it a tan Ciera?
      [youtube qvdPMyNvHOk http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qvdPMyNvHOk youtube]

  10. Rover1 Avatar

    From the time when US cars were wisely not sold outside America.

  11. Van_Sarockin Avatar

    It's truly impressive what Chrysler was able to make out of the K car, and it saved the company. But the Imperial is not an impressive car. I think at the time, the Imperial was hardly noticed, next to Town Cars and Coupe DeVilles and whatnot. If anything, the LeBaron hard a much bigger following.
    But the Imperial manages to look like a lot, and probably wasn't a total disaster as an automobile. Imagine if Mercedes made their next S Class out of the last generation SMART or A Class: that is what Chrysler pulled off, for better and for worse.

  12. Number_Six Avatar

    I got a lot of seat time in these when they were new and I was working as a lot jockey at a Chryco Dealer. Things that stand out: all you could hear most of the time at idle/low speed was the fuel pump; the wire hubcaps creaked incessantly, making it impossible to sneak up on rival mobsters late at night (although they would have heard the fuel pump just as loudly from the exterior); and the ride was simply…nautical…as in crossing the Southern Ocean solo in a small yacht in 30-ft waves nautical.

  13. Maymar Avatar

    Regarding the Landau Roof (or at least any sort of faux convertible top), never, ever underestimate the ability of the American dealership to separate a customer from their money. Unlike Ze Germans, they don't need the manufacturer's help.
    <img src="http://pictures.dealer.com/s/superiorcdjcllc/0766/32f7bc8b0a0a006500c04fd19565b626.jpg&quot; width=500 /img>

    1. Hatchtopia Avatar

      I'm going to go out on a limb and say for what it is, that looks surprisingly un-terrible. It actually looks like a convertible top – probably due to the lack of ridiculous opera windows and whatnot.

    2. Van_Sarockin Avatar

      They say it's Superior, so I have to believe them.

  14. C³-Cool Cadillac Cat Avatar
    C³-Cool Cadillac Cat

    The faux 'vert will, unfortunately, never likely go away.
    The Landau roof is also hanging on for dear life.
    <img src="http://www.blogcdn.com/www.autoblog.com/media/2009/11/bad_landau_hi_003_630.jpg&quot; width="500">

    1. Rust-MyEnemy Avatar

      That's genuinely hideous, and I have a high tolerance for hideous. There is no beauty to find in that image.

    2. austinminiman Avatar

      I never realized they made a Ford Escort Converti… Hey! Wait a minute! Pretty sneaky. They almost had me.

  15. C³-Cool Cadillac Cat Avatar
    C³-Cool Cadillac Cat

    Chrysler needs to bring back a proper, land-yacht size, RWD, large CID, Imperial.

  16. MattC Avatar

    I worked at a rental car agency during the time these were introduced. We had many of these in out fleet. I have to give Chrysler credit for really stretching their product line based on really 2 platforms at that time. I remember that you could absolutely destroy the tires if you stomped on the gas, that the car was surprisingly comfortable for a dated design but handled like the suspension was balanced on jelly.( I also remember the distinct transmission sound as the car would some to a stop. I believe that it was Chryslers transmission that first utilized electronic solonoids. It always sounded like it was going to self destruct and judging from Chrysler's track record many of them did.) It was also the antitehesis of what the majority of American buyers were buying at the time.

  17. Lincman Avatar

    these are strange cars- you could get three differently designed car/cell phones- but there was no sun/moon roof ever available

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